The men were "among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville" during the white nationalism demonstrations that took place over a weekend in August 2017, according to an affidavit written by an FBI agent. The defendants names are Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis, Thomas Walter Gillen and Cole Evan White, all of whom were charged with travelling to incite riots and conspiracy to riot.
The Rise Above Movement regularly conducts meetings in public parks where members are trained in boxing and other physical defence techniques, the affidavit indicated. Meanwhile, multimedia evidence included in the arrest filings reportedly showed the four defendants committing various acts of violence in Charlottesville, where a peaceful counter-protestor was killed, named Heather Heyer.
The affidavit alleged photos and video footage showed the defendants attacking counter-protesters, “which in some cases resulted in serious injuries.”
The men have also taken part in “acts of violence” at political rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, and other places, the affidavit alleged.
“This is a group that essentially subscribes to an anti-Semitic, racist ideology, and then organises, trains, and deploys to various political rallies, not only to espouse this particular ideology but also to engage in acts of violence against folks who are taking a contrary point of view,” US Attorney Thomas Cullen said at a news conference in Charlottesville held to announce the charges.
All four men were arrested early Tuesday morning, Mr Cullen said. Mr Daley, Mr Miselis and Mr Gillen were expected to make initial court appearances later Tuesday, while Mr White was expected in court Wednesday, he said.
Mr Cullen said each defendant faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted on the two counts they each face — however, defendants often get less than the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines.
The arrests come more than a year after hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Clashes first erupted over a year ago on Aug. 11, 2017, as a crowd of white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting racist slogans encountered a small group of counter-protesters.
The following day, more violence broke out between counter-protesters and attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally, which was believed to be the largest gathering of white nationalists in at least a decade. Street fighting exploded before the event could begin as scheduled and went on for nearly an hour in view of police until authorities forced the crowd to disperse.
Mr Cullen said investigators sifted through “an incredible volume” of video and still photographs to review the movements of the four men and determine whether they could claim they were only defending themselves after being attacked by others at the rally. He said prosecutors believe there was “no provocation” for them to engage in violence that day.
The four men, he said, made their way to the rally with their hands taped, “ready to do street battle.”
Then they engaged in punching, kicking, head-butting and pushing, assaulting an African-American man, two women and a minister who was wearing a clerical collar, Mr Cullen said.
“In our view, these four committed particularly violent acts in Charlottesville. Secondly, they committed violent acts in California at other rallies. Therefore, in our view, they were essentially serial rioters,” Mr Cullen said.
Agencies contributed to this report
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